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12 Jan 2010 : Column 195WH—continued

If we wish to bring about peace in the area, we must stop the occupation of the west bank and the imprisonment of the people of Gaza. The borders must be open and
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respect shown for the democratic process within Gaza and the west bank that has resulted in elected Government. Whether one likes it or not, that must fundamentally be what the democratic process is about.

Lastly, I want to turn to universal jurisdiction, which I mentioned in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea. I was deeply involved in the whole issue of General Pinochet, including his arrival in this country on an arms-buying spree, his eventual arrest on an extradition warrant from Spain and the historic decision by the House of Lords to declare universal jurisdiction on human rights matters to be competent for British courts. It was good enough then, and many people were very pleased with it, because General Pinochet's popularity had not lasted. People said, "This is a good thing. We are bringing murderers to justice." However, now that the Foreign Secretary and others see Israel as an ally, it is seen to be inconvenient to apply a similar process to people who said that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and who ordered the bombing of civilian installations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Surely they, too, have humanitarian law questions to answer in British courts should they show up in this country.

I am proud of the fact that we have universal jurisdiction in British courts, and I will in no way support the reduction of that right in any parliamentary move that is made by the Government. When the Minister replies, I suggest that he tells us that that nonsense has been dropped and that we will stick with our human rights law and universal jurisdiction. If that means that people such as Tzipi Livni cannot come here unless they are prepared to answer legal questions, so be it. It might discourage other people from bombing civilian targets in the future. Surely that is the whole point of having that law and of international human rights law.

11.36 am

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) on obtaining this important debate. I should like to touch briefly on the important legal implications of the Goldstone report rather than its content, which has been dealt with extensively by my hon. Friend with his usual clarity and articulation. Goldstone is unique; there has never been such a meticulous and judicial analysis of atrocity within so short a time of those atrocities being committed either by a nation state or by others. I have read the report and already it has achieved the iconic status that is normally, in literary terms, reserved for "Ulysses". We always used to ask each other, "Have you actually read "Ulysses"?" The answer was a test of both one's veracity and virility.

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): And one's stamina.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Yes, and stamina. We now ask each other who has read Goldstone. I have, and found it a harrowing and dreadful experience. Worse than the destruction of schools and hospitals and the wanton blowing up of civilian targets is the wanton destruction of 40 per cent. of the agricultural output of Gaza. I have one rhetorical question that I wanted to ask when I tried to intervene on my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy).
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How does a country defend its people by wantonly destroying 40 per cent. of the agricultural capacity? More than anything else, it is the casual cruelty that is the most devastating. Goldstone mentions the casual shooting of children and civilians while soldiers do nothing except eat on the top of a tank. Effectively, they are doing it for fun. That reawakens images of the worst regiments of history; images with which my generation were brought up. I am talking about images of the Waffen SS doing precisely the same thing. That is what is so horrifying in the Goldstone report.

Let me briefly touch on the even-handedness of Goldstone. The Goldstone report centres on Israel and the actions of the Israeli army because 1,440 people have been injured and killed-including 400 children-by that army. It is hardly surprising that Goldstone concentrates on such matters. Israel is an immensely prosperous state that is supported by the most prosperous state on Earth and many of the most prosperous institutions. It is a state that, ever since I entered politics, I have supported and worked for its right to exist. It is a state born out of indescribable suffering, which happened in my lifetime. So, I do not take any criticism from those who might say that I am anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli-I am not and never have been-but Gaza opened the eyes of people like me, who had been quiet for far too long on the issue.

What happened in Gaza is chronicled in Goldstone. What is the effect?

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I welcome the debate. I come from a similar background to my hon. and learned Friend and have been going to that part of world since before I came into this place. Does it disturb him, as it disturbs me, that people use "democracy" and the existence of an internal electoral system that appoints a Parliament as an excuse-a smoke-and-mirrors scheme to hide behind-to justify the actions of what anyone else would say has become a pariah state?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Democracy, laudable though it undoubtedly is, is only one hallmark of civilisation; how one behaves in that democracy is another. The Third Reich started out as a democracy; Hamas is a democracy; democracy is not the only thing. The repetition of the phrase, "This is the only democracy in the middle east", with Israel therefore deserving some special treatment, is costing us dear in international terms and in international relations.

Briefly, on the legal consequences of Goldstone, does the report have a legal base in British jurisprudence? Yes, it most certainly does-it is evidence. Ironically, one of the reasons why it is evidence is because of the extreme loosening of the evidential barriers effected by the Government in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, in the teeth of opposition from people such as myself. None the less, that is the effect: Goldstone is an evidential document in British jurisdiction, and may be used as such.

Mr. Carswell: The hon. and learned Gentleman mentions the examples of brutality cited in Goldstone, which are based on examples provided to Goldstone by non-governmental organisation evidence. The NGO evidence, as Goldstone himself stated, was based almost entirely
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on unverifiable publications from politicised NGOs, such as the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, whose analysis it is fair to say is not wholly objective. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not accept that some of the evidence base in Goldstone is highly questionable and that the report is not the objective document that he pretends it to be?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: That interpretation of Goldstone is highly selective, but let me answer the real question, which came at the end: do I not accept that some of the evidence in Goldstone is questionable? Of course I do. I have been a criminal barrister for a long time and have prosecuted and defended-I am happy or unhappy to say-some of the most venal, serious, dangerous, nasty and on occasion violent crimes that have been committed in this jurisdiction. Of course I know that all evidence needs to be tested. That is why the report needs to be tested in a proper arena; it needs to be tested in a British court, or in a court. Brought before such a judicial test, it may well be that some parts of the report will be found wanting. Frankly, I disagree-the report is a devastating indictment, in its form, its content and the nature and background of the man who wrote it. However, that is all that it is: an indictment. That indictment cries out to be tried.

Now I come to the principle of universal jurisdiction, which so shames my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, who would take no interventions on the subject. Let us deal with universal jurisdiction, which she finds so abhorrent. In the case of Tzipi Livni-not a case in which I was retained-inevitably what happened was that evidence was placed before a British district judge, of whom there is no criticism at all. I shall listen carefully to the Minister's reply, when he comes to deal with the issue. If he says that the district judge can be criticised, he is wholly at odds with the Foreign Secretary, who has spoken to me in such terms as, "There is no criticism of that district judge." That district judge, on the evidence placed before him or her-I do not know which, but it was a Westminster district judge-found that there was a prima facie case to answer, because of the evidence of the atrocities committed in Gaza and the authority exercised by Tzipi Livni at the time.

That is the British system. In our system, we have the contribution of the citizen to a degree not exemplified elsewhere. We have jury trial, for instance-the first trial without a jury starts today, ironically, but the basis of our system is still jury trial. The citizen decides; the citizen can initiate process; and the citizen can go to a district judge and put evidence before the judge-if the evidence is there, process will issue. That is our system and I find nothing shameful in that at all. What I find shameful is the speed with which our Prime Minister got in touch with the Israeli Government and told them that there was something wrong with our judicial process. What I find shameful is that the Attorney-General-our Attorneys-General in this Government have a lot to answer for in how they have used their office in the build-up to the Iraq war and now this-going to a Hebrew university, talked about war "lawfare" and said:

Why? Why should Israel's leaders "always" be able to travel, no matter what they do or the atrocities committed by their Government, army and the Israeli defence force
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on their behalf? Why? The time has long gone in this world when those who commit war crimes can believe that they can travel with impunity and immunity into civilised states and not face universal jurisdiction.

Mr. Carswell: The hon. and learned Gentleman comes from a proud tradition of the British left of being staunchly anti-imperial and anti-imperialist. Is there not something vaguely imperial about the ambition of universal jurisdiction, the idea that a British court can detain and arrest the leader of another country? Is that not an inversion of the anti-imperial tradition of which he used to be an advocate?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: It is not just our courts, but all the courts of any country that has signed the fourth Geneva convention and its protocol. That is the point; the jurisdiction is universal, which is the precise opposite of colonial. It is a universal jurisdiction, so that those who commit war crimes and atrocities know that their movement will be restricted in the world. Ironically, those who denied the freedom of movement to others, find that movement is denied to them.

I shall oppose-I very much hope that the wider House will oppose-any attempt to restrict universal jurisdiction at the behest of any state, however powerful, whose leaders are accused and against whom there is prima facie evidence of committing such crimes.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Was my hon. and learned Friend ashamed of a British Prime Minister referring to the report as describing the "crimes" of Hamas and the "alleged crimes" of Israel? Has not that perception of a lack of even-handedness-that kind of hard power-aroused the antagonism of much of the Muslim community, in our local mosques and throughout the world, and fuelled the terrorist threats?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I agree. The perception of partiality in respect of Israel has long dogged not just this Government but British Governments generally. It is high time that such partiality finished, with the way that is articulated-the semantics used-carefully chosen.

11.49 am

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I am pleased to contribute to today's debate, because it is a year on since last winter's devastating Gaza conflict and we now have the report from Goldstone. I agree with the Government that the report raises serious questions that need to be answered but at the same time is pretty flawed.

[Mr. Jim Hood in the Chair]

I asked the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) a parliamentary question about the report and he set out the flaws in November last year: it did not adequately recognise Israel's right to protect its citizens or pay sufficient attention to Hamas's actions; it made broad assertions about detailed interpretation of international law over which we differ; and it lacked an authority of Israeli perspective, so crucial to determining the legality of the actions.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) mentioned the rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, targeted at innocent civilians in
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southern Israel, which constituted a breach of international humanitarian law but was not addressed. As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, there have been 9,000 such attacks since October 2001.

We have heard a lot about international universal jurisdiction and the way that the Goldstone report was used to attempt the arrest in December last year of Tzipi Livni, Leader of the Opposition in Israel and former Foreign Minister. Hamas has since admitted that it worked in co-ordination with lawyers in this country on that case to try to achieve that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree said, that has led to the cessation of visits by Israeli leaders and senior officials, dangerously affecting our relations with that country and, more importantly, our influence over the middle east peace process.

I should like to say a few words in support of the commitments made by the Attorney-General in Jerusalem earlier this month, and the Foreign Secretary last month, to look at ways in which the system can be reformed, because if we are going to retain our strategic partnership with Israel and continue to have a constructive role in any middle east conflict it is vital that Israeli visitors, whether in government or not, are able to come to this country for meetings with UK politicians and the wider community. It is important to recognise that Ms Livni is a strong proponent of the two-state solution and of renewing peace negotiations, yet her visit was cancelled, so she could not discuss with our Government those specific issues that would help the peace process rather than hinder it. That is the consequence of this action.

I would like to see the law reforms. I support the principle of universal jurisdiction for international law, but I would like to see our courts protected from being used as campaign forums by politically motivated groups that are not really interested in justice, but are interested in scoring party political or other political points in this long-running conflict in the middle east, which is not going to be resolved in courts of law. Our courts have been left dangerously open to political manipulation and being brought into disrepute. There is a way forward by allowing the Attorney-General to decide whether this should happen. The Attorney-General is, in the end, responsible for deciding which prosecutions should go ahead, based on the likelihood of both a conviction and a public interest test. We may have the embarrassment of leaders being arrested but no prosecution following on from that.

Although this state of affairs has little appeal to those who have serious concerns, it is now attracting the efforts of those seeking to use our law to embarrass foreign political leaders who they dislike. We need international, universal jurisdiction to deal with people such as the genocidaires from Rwanda and war criminals from Bosnia and Serbia, and the war lord from Afghanistan who was prosecuted successfully, but this is not what it was designed or intended for.

Richard Burden: If my hon. Friend is saying that a better way of operating the law of universal jurisdiction would be to involve the Attorney-General at an earlier stage in determining whether there should be arrest, not just deciding whether there should be a prosecution, does he think it was wise for that same post-holder-the Attorney-General-to go to Israel and give a guarantee in advance that, as far as the British Government are
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concerned, no Israeli leader would be arrested if they came to the UK? Is not that rather prejudicing her office?

Mr. Dismore: I do not think that is right. I think we had a serious diplomatic problem with Israel that needed to be resolved sensibly. The approach being adopted by the Foreign Secretary, with whom I discussed this matter last night, is sensible. We need to work with the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign Office to find a sensible solution to this issue to enable us to prosecute people such as the Rwandan genocidaires, yet at the same time play a constructive role in the middle east peace process, which these efforts hinder.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Dismore: If I give way any more, nobody else is going to get in.

The Government have rightly called for Israel to conduct an independent inquiry into what happened, as did Goldstone, and this call has been echoed by international partners as well as many NGOs. I welcome the answer given by Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead in the other place to a parliamentary question earlier this month, saying that the Israeli authorities have carried out, or are currently undertaking, investigations into 140 separate incidents, including but not limited to the 34 highlighted by Goldstone inquiry. Although those investigations are being carried out by the IDF and not by an independent body, which would be preferable, the fact that Israel is conducting these inquiries should not be ignored. Too often Israel is painted as a country incapable of self-scrutiny. Yet we only need to look back as far as 2006, to the Winograd investigation and to 2005, to the Sasson Report, to know that this is far from true. Winograd was in response to the Lebanon conflict in 2006 and Sasson was commissioned to look into the funding of settlement expansion.

Sasson exposed the fact that state bodies were covertly diverting funds to settlements improperly and the Winograd report was critical of the military strategy employed in the second Lebanon war, particularly the decision to respond with an immediate intensive military strike, following the kidnapping of Israeli servicemen Ehud and Goldwasser. Israel has, in the past, conducted proper inquiries into such matters, found itself wanting and acted accordingly.

Israel has established a legal system that is respected throughout the world, with a Supreme Court that is open to all, with few restrictions on its jurisdiction. On 29 December 2009, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a 14 km west bank stretch of Israel's highway 443, a main road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, should not be closed to Palestinians, despite the military's fears that after six Israeli deaths on the road in terror attacks during the second intifada, opening the road could result in more deaths of Israeli citizens. Nevertheless, the Israeli Supreme Court decided that that road should be opened.

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